Campsite owner's pledge to conserve water meadow

Nigel Marsh, Burnham Overy

Nigel Marsh, who is creating a new campsite which he hopes will help tourists connect with nature - Credit: Chris Bishop

The owner of a water meadow which is being turned into a campsite is pledging to improve habitats and conserve the area.

Villagers are angry that land beside the A149 coast road at Burnham Norton, near Wells, has been mown and drained.

But Nigel Marsh, who has bought the five-acre site near the River Burn, said he wants to give more people the chance to enjoy the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) on the Norfolk coast.

Burnham Norton campsite

The water meadow at Burnham Norton, which will be used as a campsite for 56 days of the year - Credit: Chris Bishop

The site, next to the main A149 coast road, can be used for camping for 56 days of the year as a "permitted development" without needing planning permission. It also has an exemption from Natural England, meaning it does not require a licence.

Mr Marsh, who also operates campsites at Heacham and Holme, near Hunstanton, said he had restored drainage dykes on the land. Shallow scrapes, which carry away water have wide bands of vegetation including yellow flag iris.

"Last year it was mowed for hay so the concept of us mowing or of shortening the reeds has been done historically on the plot," he said.

"There are areas where the grass can grow long. We're looking to bring more habitat to the site, not less.

Burnham Norton campsite

Flag iris and other vegetation beside the area which will be used for camping pitches at Burnham Norton - Credit: Chris Bishop

Most Read

"We want to work with the local people to ensure it retains its natural beauty. It's their area and they don't want to see much change but commerce and tourists need to share this area."

Mr Marsh said he also planned to plant more trees and restore hedgerows. He added he was also looking at putting in a permissive path so more people could enjoy views of the site.

Only areas intended as camping pitches have been mown. Mr Marsh said there would also be "discreet" toilet blocks and showers in place  when the first campers arrived after the bird nesting season.

But people living around the site believe it should have been left as it was prior to being bought by Mr Marsh in February and should not be used as a campsite.

Burnham Norton campsite

A view across part of the water meadow at Burnham Norton - Credit: Chris Bishop

Burnham Norton-based Saffron grower and botanist Dr Sally Francis, said:  “I was appalled to learn of plans to use one of the Burn Valley freshwater marshes in our village as a campsite.

"The whole area is low-lying and was reclaimed from estuarine saltmarshes around 250 years ago. Since then it has been exclusively used as grazing or meadow land, developing an extraordinarily rich level of biodiversity under traditional, local management techniques.

"If his plans progress, the addition of hard-standing areas for access, toilet blocks etc. – needed because of the land’s marshy nature – will irreversibly damage this site. The whole project must be one of the most unsympathetic uses imaginable of this precious and rare habitat."

Mark Lowe, chairman of the Burnham Norton Parish Meeting, said: “The community are most concerned about the imminent threat posed to this fragile and important habitat which is characteristic of this part of the AONB. We are equally concerned about the dangers arising from greatly increased use of the vehicle access to the site which comes directly off the busy coast road, the A149, and which has severely restricted visibility.

Burnham Norton campsite

Vegetation surrounds the area earmarked for camping pitches beside the A149 at Burnham Norton - Credit: Chris Bishop

"Serious thought should be given to removing this right within the AONB or where the highway access is dangerous. The suggested change to the law so that the deemed planning permission to use the land as a campsite could persist for as long as six months in any one year is obviously inappropriate.”

Andrew Jamieson, county councillor for the North Norfolk Coast said: “It’s unacceptable, in terms of highways safety and damage to our precious countryside, to have a campsite here. Opportunities for supporting the visitor economy recover from Covid should be welcomed but not when it causes more harm than good.”